Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Instant Aging

Years ago, when I was a teenager and first paid attention to jewelry as self-adornment, I was drawn to pieces that looked like they might have come from an archaeological excavation site. I would always gravitate towards something that looked like a Mayan relic or an ancient Egyptian treasure. That appreciation of the history of a piece remains with me and strongly influences my design sensibility. I often prefer that my pieces have a patina, creating an 'aged' appearance.

When I made necklaces out of my recent cabochon pendants, I used sterling chains with sterling wire-wrapped crystals, gemstones, pearls and textured metal.

The pendants included hand textured or etched layers, capturing that character of a piece unearthed from an earlier time in history. Lovely as it is, the bright and clean sterling chain, wire and clasps did not fit the picture that I was trying to create.
Sterling silver will develop a natural patina as it oxidizes. That oxidized look is what I wanted for these necklaces, but I certainly did not want to wait the months or years that the natural process might take. I wanted instant aging!!
That's what liver of sulfur is for.
Liver of sulfur is a mixture of potassium sulfides, and is used to darken or 'antique' sterling and copper. While this is not actually an oxidizing process (which requires oxygen), the end result is similar. I put a couple of small pieces of liver of sulfur in warm water. When the pieces dissolved, turning the water clear yellow, I added my necklaces. Almost immediately, all of the silver and copper turned black.
The necklaces remained in the liver of sulfur solution for less that 30 seconds. I removed them and used a soft cotton rag to wipe all pieces dry.
This is how the pieces looked after drying. I wanted the necklaces to look aged, but I didn't want them to look this aged.
The next step in the process is a time consuming one- selective removal of the liver of sulfur patina.
I used fine sandpaper on all surfaces of the metal to remove some of the patina. The patina will remain in areas that have been textured and on other surfaces that are inaccessible. The chain on the left side of the above image has been sanded, showing the contrast to the chain as it appeared right out of the liver of sulfur. I like the depth that this patina adds to the necklace.
Here's what the necklaces looked like after the sanding. Finishing the three took a while because each side of the chain needs to be sanded. Each wire wrapped bead and sterling spacer needs to be carefully sanded. I also ended up sanding off the top of my left thumbnail.
While it is time consuming, it is time well spent.

These necklaces now have the look that I was envisioning at the beginning of the process.

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